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Following landmark Open Hillel event at Harvard, Wesleyan hosts JVP Shabbat
Powerful event defies restrictive Hillel “Standards of Partnership,” brings together Wesleyan community
Middletown, CT — On Friday, February 27, the Wesleyan Jewish Community hosted “Jewish Voice for Peace Shabbat,” drawing together almost 50 students in defiance of Hillel International’s “Guidelines for Campus Israel Activity.”
In April 2014, the Wesleyan Jewish Community, an affiliate of Hillel International, announced that it was an Open Hillel, joining the student movement asking the “Center for Jewish Life on Campus” to remove restrictive standards about views on Israel are welcome.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Shabbat brought a group that has been previously excluded into Wesleyan’s Jewish Community. This event occurred just two days after Hillel International endorsed Harvard Hillel’s decision to break its own Standards of Partnership by allowing boycott, divestment, and sanctions supporter Dorothy Zellner to speak on a panel about faith and solidarity inside the Hillel building.
“Wesleyan’s JVP shabbat was a great example of how communities will be grappling with essential topics after Hillels have been opened,” said Yael Horowitz, a sophomore at Wesleyan and organizer of the event. “Though there were disagreements surrounding the event, at least the community was openly talking about an issue that has been under the surface of our community for a very long time.”
Many attendees commented on how powerful and important the event was. One wrote in a comment in the Wesleyan Argus, “I found the [JVP] Shabbat service to be quite spiritual. A large part of my feeling that way was a product of views being explicitly shared rather than implicitly expressed in the texts.”
The “Standards of Partnership” guidelines adopted by Hillel International exclude groups and individuals from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In particular, the Standards say that “Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that… support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.” According to JVP’s website, the organization “supports the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement through divestment from companies that profit from the occupation” as part of nonviolent efforts to end the Israeli occupation.
Wesleyan’s JVP Shabbat is an unprecedented event. In May 2011, Brandeis Hillel rejected JVP Brandeis’s bid for membership. And last year, Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut wrote in an open letter to Swarthmore Hillel, another Open Hillel, that “‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.
Nonetheless, students are committed to creating the inclusive Jewish community they want to see on campus.
Open Hillel is a national grassroots organization of Jewish college students and young alumni working to promote inclusion and open discourse on Israel-Palestine within campus Jewish communities.
Aryeh Younger, Open Hillel Press Coordinator